Saturday, December 15, 2012

Online Digital Reputation Management is a Requirement for Marketing Strategy & PR in DC

Nearly every business conducting business in the DC or Northern Virginia area (and elsewhere) is finding that more and more effort is required to manage their  online reviews and feedback. Particularly for local or regional businesses, the very first thing online consumers do in considering to visit or buy, is to seek out online reviews, search for online reputation or trust signals, and canvass their social media networks for trusted advice and opinion.

More often than not, the aggregate perception developed in a consumer's mind, from this online collection of "reputation proof points", will overcome ANY direct marketing, advertising or SEO efforts being made.

It's hard to fight back, and lawsuits really aren't the answer. This recent example here in Northern Virginia and DC may result in some compensation - but the damage is done, and will last for a long time on the Internet.

Establishing consistent, durable and very positive online messaging isn't easy, and requires constant attention.  There's also no specific, simple answer, tool or web service - and furthermore, any tools or methods that are working today, will not be as effective tomorrow, given the constant changes and updates being made to social sites, search engines and competitive reactions.

What is absolutely necessary, to maintain a very positive, trustworthy, engaging and respectable professional presence online - is professional care and feeding of your online reputation paired with superior products, services and customer engagement.  It's not necessarily expensive, but requires time spent determining your status, planning your approach, executing an ongoing strategy and staying on top of the reviews.

Your response to online review and PR challenges also requires absolutely professional, high-quality American English copywriting and communications skills (i.e. you can't outsource it overseas, and you shouldn't attempt if you aren't already a great writer), with innate knowledge and understanding of your locality and local news, your market and customers, and your products, services and technical vocabulary.

KME Internet Marketing can help - as they do for all of their clients. The customer, community and revenue fallout from bad Ripoff Report (a particularly nasty service), Google, Yelp reviews can be diluted, overcome, even officially retracted if unfair. Critics and negativity can be promptly, effectively, legally addressed. Positive feedback and testimonials can be solicited, collected and expertly highlighted. Great experiences and news can be prominently placed and optimized for maximum visibility. Professional public relations (PR) and communications strategies can be implemented, at extremely reasonable rates - and far more proactively and effectively than traditional advertising, web design, media publishers or PR firms can offer.

This is a difficult, quickly-growing issue that will always take time to address and monitor, and has to be an extremely important part of every business marketing and outreach plan.  Contact KME Internet Marketing today for more information, or to discuss the many ways they can help.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Selling Federal Enterprise Architecture (EA)

Selling Federal Enterprise Architecture

A taxonomy of subject areas, from which to develop a prioritized marketing and communications plan to evangelize EA activities within and among US Federal Government organizations and constituents.

Any and all feedback is appreciated, particularly in developing and extending this discussion as a tool for use – more information and details are also available.

"Selling" the discipline of Enterprise Architecture (EA) in the Federal Government (particularly in non-DoD agencies) is difficult, notwithstanding the general availability and use of the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF) for some time now, and the relatively mature use of the reference models in the OMB Capital Planning and Investment (CPIC) cycles. EA in the Federal Government also tends to be a very esoteric and hard to decipher conversation – early apologies to those who agree to continue reading this somewhat lengthy article.

Alignment to the FEAF and OMB compliance mandates is long underway across the Federal Departments and Agencies (and visible via tools like PortfolioStat and ITDashboard.gov – but there is still a gap between the top-down compliance directives and enablement programs, and the bottom-up awareness and effective use of EA for either IT investment management or actual mission effectiveness. "EA isn't getting deep enough penetration into programs, components, sub-agencies, etc.", verified a panelist at the most recent EA Government Conference in DC.

Newer guidance from OMB may be especially difficult to handle, where bottom-up input can't be accurately aligned, analyzed and reported via standardized EA discipline at the Agency level – for example in addressing the new (for FY13) Exhibit 53D "Agency IT Reductions and Reinvestments" and the information required for "Cloud Computing Alternatives Evaluation" (supporting the new Exhibit 53C, "Agency Cloud Computing Portfolio").

Therefore, EA must be "sold" directly to the communities that matter, from a coordinated, proactive messaging perspective that takes BOTH the Program-level value drivers AND the broader Agency mission and IT maturity context into consideration.

Selling EA means persuading others to take additional time and possibly assign additional resources, for a mix of direct and indirect benefits – many of which aren't likely to be realized in the short-term. This means there's probably little current, allocated budget to work with; ergo the challenge of trying to sell an "unfunded mandate".

Also, the concept of "Enterprise" in large Departments like Homeland Security tends to cross all kinds of organizational boundaries – as Richard Spires recently indicated by commenting that "...organizational boundaries still trump functional similarities. Most people understand what we're trying to do internally, and at a high level they get it. The problem, of course, is when you get down to them and their system and the fact that you're going to be touching them...there's always that fear factor," Spires said.

It is quite clear to the Federal IT Investment community that for EA to meet its objective, understandable, relevant value must be measured and reported using a repeatable method – as described by GAO's recent report "Enterprise Architecture Value Needs To Be Measured and Reported".

What's not clear is the method or guidance to sell this value. In fact, the current GAO "Framework for Assessing and Improving Enterprise Architecture Management (Version 2.0)", a.k.a. the "EAMMF", does not include words like "sell", "persuade", "market", etc., except in reference ("within Core Element 19: Organization business owner and CXO representatives are actively engaged in architecture development") to a brief section in the CIO Council's 2001 "Practical Guide to Federal Enterprise Architecture", entitled "3.3.1. Develop an EA Marketing Strategy and Communications Plan." Furthermore, Core Element 19 of the EAMMF is advised to be applied in "Stage 3: Developing Initial EA Versions". This kind of EA sales campaign truly should start much earlier in the maturity progress, i.e. in Stages 0 or 1.

So, what are the understandable, relevant benefits (or value) to sell, that can find an agreeable, participatory audience, and can pave the way towards success of a longer-term, funded set of EA mechanisms that can be methodically measured and reported? Pragmatic benefits from a useful EA that can help overcome the fear of change? And how should they be sold?

Following is a brief taxonomy (it's a taxonomy, to help organize SME support) of benefit-related subjects that might make the most sense, in creating the messages and organizing an initial "engagement plan" for evangelizing EA "from within". An EA "Sales Taxonomy" of sorts. We're not boiling the ocean here; the subjects that are included are ones that currently appear to be urgently relevant to the current Federal IT Investment landscape.

(Continue reading at the Oracle Federal Enterprise Architecture Blog)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Create a Social Community of Trust Along With Your Digital Services Governance Framework

The Digital Services Governance Recommendations were recently released, supporting the US Federal Government's Digital Government Strategy Milestone Action #4.2 to establish agency-wide governance structures for developing and delivering digital services.

Graphic showing the layers of digital services (information, platform, and presentation) built on a platform of security and privacy and delivering to final customers.
Figure 1 - From: "Digital Services Governance Recommendations"

While extremely important from a policy and procedure perspective within an Agency's information management and communications enterprise, these recommendations only very lightly reference perhaps the most important success enabler - the "Trusted Community" required for ultimate usefulness of the services delivered. By "ultimate usefulness", I mean the collection of public, transparent properties around government information and digital services that include social trust and validation, social reach, expert respect, and comparative, standard measures of relative value. In other words, do the digital services meet expectations of the public, social media ecosystem (people AND machines)?

A rigid governance framework, controlling by rules, policies and roles the creation and dissemination of digital services may meet the expectations of direct end-users and most stakeholders - including the agency information stewards and security officers. All others who may share comments about the services, write about them, swap or review extracts, repackage, visualize or otherwise repurpose the output for use in entirely unanticipated, social ways - these "stakeholders" will not be governed, but may observe guidance generated by a "Trusted Community". As recognized members of the trusted community, these stakeholders may ultimately define the right scope and detail of governance that all other users might observe, promoting and refining the usefulness of the government product as the social ecosystem expects.


So, as part of an agency-centric governance framework, it's advised that a flexible governance model be created for stewarding a "Community of Trust" around the digital services. The first steps follow the approach outlined in the Recommendations:

Step 1: Gather a Core Team

In addition to the roles and responsibilities described, perhaps a set of characteristics and responsibilities can be developed for the "Trusted Community Steward/Advocate" - i.e. a person or team who (a) are entirely cognizant of and respected within the external social media communities, and (b) are trusted both within the agency and outside as practical, responsible, non-partisan communicators of useful information. The may seem like a standard Agency PR/Outreach team role - but often an agency or stakeholder subject matter expert with a public, active social persona works even better.

Step 2: Assess What You Have

In addition to existing, agency or stakeholder decision-making bodies and assets, it's important to take a PR/Marketing view of the social ecosystem. How visible are the services across the social channels utilized by current or desired constituents of your agency? What's the online reputation of your agency and perhaps the service(s)? Is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) a facet of external communications/publishing lifecycles? Who are the public champions, instigators, value-adders for the digital services, or perhaps just influential "communicators" (i.e. with no stake in the game)? You're essentially assessing your market and social presence, and identifying the actors (including your own agency employees) in the existing community of trust.

Step 3: Determine What You Want

The evolving Community of Trust will most readily absorb, support and provide feedback regarding "Core Principles" (Element B of the "six essential elements of a digital services governance structure") shared by your Agency, and obviously play a large, though probably very unstructured part in Element D "Stakeholder Input and Participation". Plan for this, and seek input from the social media community with respect to performance metrics - these should be geared around the outcome and growth of the trusted communities actions. How big and active is this community? What's the influential reach of this community with respect to particular messaging or campaigns generated by the Agency? What's the referral rate TO your digital services, FROM channels owned or operated by members of this community? (this requires governance with respect to content generation inclusive of "markers" or "tags").

At this point, while your Agency proceeds with steps 4 ("Build/Validate the Governance Structure") and 5 ("Share, Review, Upgrade"), the Community of Trust might as well just get going, and start adding value and usefulness to the existing conversations, existing data services - loosely though directionally-stewarded by your trusted advocate(s).

Why is this an "Enterprise Architecture" topic? Because it's increasingly apparent that a Public Service "Enterprise" is not wholly contained within Agency facilities, firewalls and job titles - it's also manifested in actual, perceived or representative forms outside the walls, on the social Internet. An Agency's EA model and resulting investments both facilitate and are impacted by the "Social Enterprise". At Oracle, we're very active both within our Enterprise and outside, helping foster social architectures that enable truly useful public services, digital or otherwise.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Sequestration Planning Benefits from Enterprise Architecture-Driven Value Engineering

The next 5 months portend a spectacle of US Congressional battles to be waged ahead of the pending, mandatory “sequester” - automatic, mandatory federal government spending reductions of about $1 Trillion over 9 years, in non-exempt, discretionary appropriations, set to take effect 1/2/2013. Forward-thinking planners in government IT organizations, in large Programs that depend upon IT, and among the Systems Integration (SI) community are likely to dust off Enterprise Architecture skills for analyzing budget cut implications across their IT investment portfolios, and possible cost savings opportunities to offset them. Leveraging a methodical, EA-guided approach to both assess impacts and adjust spending priorities, while illuminating new areas of savings, is a sure route to mitigating serious risks and delays to delivery of critical citizen services.

Whether you’re dusting off the existing EA artifacts, or need to take a very rapid, optimized route to constructing initial enterprise IT models, the driving principle at this time will be rapid, absolute reduction in complexity with a clear line-of-sight to cost savings. “Complexity” here simply refers to an inefficient or needlessly detailed volume of time and resources applied to deliver IT solutions – time spent re-engineering processes, building redundant interfaces and monitors, installing hardware & software in a piecemeal fashion.

Driving complexity, and therefore introducing cost savings, out of engineered systems is the central tenet of “Value Engineering” – “the optimization of a system’s outputs by crafting a mix of performance (function) and costs”. Essentially, deliver the same capabilities with better value by driving down the cost to build and/or operate. Section 52.248-1 of the FAR (Federal Acquisition Regulations) describes the “Value Engineering Clause” that is inserted into many large Federal IT contracts – enabling the contractor to propose changes to the system being developed (i.e. a “Value Engineering Change Proposal”, or VECP). If the proposal is accepted, the actual or collateral savings derived by the government (through cost modification to the contract) can be shared with the contractor. It’s a win-win opportunity for the government, system beneficiaries and the contractor community to discover and propose engineering changes that will lower costs, yet still deliver the same or better results.

Continue reading at the Oracle Enterprise Architecture for Government Blog....

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Google Penguin, Twitter, and Keyword Research

Trendspotter Interactive Marketing Article - by Fulcrum Marketing Group

Google Penguin and SEO


Google regularly updates and tweaks its algorithms in order to reduce spam and remove weak pages from the first page of its organic search results. Google’s latest update, Penguin, targets Black Hat SEO artists that use aggressive SEO techniques and over-spamming and rewards those sites that focus on strong content and organic link-building. Penguin’s major focus is centered on backlinks and how websites use those links to increase their PageRank. To Penguin, the quality of the website that is linking to your domain is vastly more important than the sheer number of links that direct to it. Penguin will give preferential treatment to honest link-building practices that use mixed-anchor text and on-page optimization rather than back-handed tricks such as cloaking. Spending the time to build natural and organic backlinks in addition to writing quality content for your site will untimely be rewarded by Penguin.

Read more about Google's Penguin algorithm changes, Twitter and Keyword Research...

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Common Approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture - Actionable Solutions

The recent "Common Approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture" (US Executive Office of the President, May 2 2012) is extremely timely and well-organized guidance for the Federal IT investment and deployment community, as useful for Federal Departments and Agencies as it is for their stakeholders and integration partners. The guidance not only helps IT Program Planners and Managers, but also informs and prepares constituents who may be the beneficiaries or otherwise impacted by the investment. The FEA Common Approach extends from and builds on the rapidly-maturing Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF) and its associated artifacts and standards, already included to a large degree in the annual Federal Portfolio and Investment Management processes – for example the OMB’s Exhibit 300 (i.e. Business Case justification for IT investments). Read more on an actionable common approach to Federal Enterprise Architecture...on the new Oracle Enteprise Architecture for Government Blog.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Solution Acquisition Architect - Sharding the Procurement

The role, impact and usefulness of the "Solution Architect" (i.e. "SA"; to the "Enterprise Architect" or "System Architect") has been clarifying for several years across the IT Consulting community, particularly given the increasingly complex nature of SOA, Cloud-centric and Multi-Platform solutions required to meet increasingly real-time, agile and resource-constrained business information management requirements. The SA's role is essentially to be the IT architecture, engineering and resource management lead, as an IT solution is first conceived, planned and begins implementation.

Very often, the SA's efforts are initially delivered as part of a proposal - complete with an engineering plan and schedule, high-level system architecture and product list, plus a cost estimate (both labor and direct). This typically assumes the proposals are meeting pre-defined acquisition strategies - i.e. they need to be "Firm Fixed Price", "Cost-Plus", fall as Task Orders under a previously-awarded "IDIQ", etc.

Therefore, the acquisition strategy may in fact be introducing constraints or guidance into proposed solutioning that don't necessary result in the best, most creative and informed solution. The acquisition strategy in effect doesn't result in the very best, informed responses from the IT vendor and consulting community.

Mitigation strategies that government agencies leverage sometimes include early series of "Requests for Information (RFIs)", Industry Days with Q/A sessions, "Draft" RFPs (soliciting feedback before the final is published), Prototype Bake-Offs, etc. There are actually many variations on the theme of soliciting input from the contractor community, in order to produce the most fair, value-add and mission-acceptable RFP. But this is usually after the acquisition strategy has been defined.

In my experience, on both sides of the Federal (and commercial) IT acquisition process (helping to develop and conduct acquisitions, as well as leading responses), a "Solution Acquisition Architect" would be a much-needed addition to the acquisition management team (SAA). This role would essentially operate as a traditional SA, commensurate with IT consulting best practices, but help shape an appropriate acquisition approach (and ultimately the RFP, procurement T&C or contract) in a way that best anticipates the response and capabilities of the IT consulting/vendor community and technology context.

This line of thinking was recently crystallized (to me) after reading the recent FCW Joint Special Report on the readiness of the Federal Government for procuring cloud services. The series of articles essentially summarize that the Government's current procurement methods, skills and resources aren't yet optimized for obtaining cloud services.

I might go further and posit that the procurement resources aren't only sub-optimal for addressing cloud services, but also for a number of current trends in dealing with information access, visualization and delivery across the traditional firewalls - including SOA integration, open-sourced data visualization and situational awareness, mobile and "big" data management, etc.

One reason the procurement resources are sub-optimal, and tend to result in procurements that are too long, cost-ineffective, too rigid and ultimately not the very best value, is because the role of the Solution Architect isn't standard in designing the acquisition plan and ultimate solicitation. Many times the available technical architects, SMEs, or separately-contracted PMO shops are pressed into service, to generate the RFP language, review the RFIs, confirm the FFP/Single Contract approach.

However, the solution architect-standard methodology and input that might deliver a solicitation (possibly spread among multiple types of awards, and extending or leveraging existing contracts) that is likely to attract the most advanced, real-world experienced thinking and sourcing to the project - simply isn't used.

This of course assumes that there exist Solution Architects and methodology that includes the knowledge of acquisition types, risks, constraints, processes. That's hard to find, especially on the solicitor side of the table. One suggestion might be to establish a program that rotates industry SAs into the Federal Government, for purposes of supporting acquisition strategies, and also to help develop pockets of expertise within the Government procurement community who are aligned with and cognizant of the vendor response communities solution architecture methodologies.

At the end of the day, the right help might be requested in the right manner, from the best available respondents - and maybe the "Cloud Services Procurement" that's been taking 6 months to complete, can be "sharded" more efficiently into reasonable, informed and truly useful procurement options.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Better Website Interaction Metrics for Economic Development

For the purposes of local or regional economic development, Internet exposure of marketing material is incredibly important. However, understanding whether the Internet exposure is actually supporting goals and objectives, and to what degree it's generating useful interaction, isn't easy, and certainly takes more people, time and expertise to work out than this simple blog post describes. But enabling simple visibility of high-level metrics can be very useful, very quickly.

The term "Internet exposure" is used here to encompass all types and methods used by persons to interact with marketing content, from seeing display ads or using a mobile app to browsing a website or providing feedback through a related social media channel. At the very highest level, there are several measures of Internet exposure and subsequent interaction that can be reported with easily-accessible metrics - following are two of the most important for strategic economic development planning and reporting, and ones that can very quickly demonstrate real "wins" to stakeholders and prospective benefactors.

1) Reach and Influence of Message

The message needs to get out, to the right people at the right time, in a way that piques their interest and harnesses the power of earned media, online dialogue and feedback - and beats the competition to it. Therefore, many variations of the message are likely needed (display ad, video, microblog, press release, etc.), the message should be meta-optimized (i.e. accompanied by tags, links, metadata and other information helpful to the channel hosts), multiple channels should be used (website, email, social media) and the message requires amplification and "shepherding" as it propagates and reactions occur.

At the most abstract level, aggregate all messages as a "campaign" for a period of time, and the following metrics are very useful indicators of progress (or not). Note that the metrics are MOST useful if a multi-month trend is shown, and that these high-level measures are just indicators to further validate and explore, not necessarily to solely base tactical decisions upon.

Search Engine Rankings (SERPs) for primary keyphrases - (i.e., search for "Loudoun office space" or "Loudoun commercial zoning" in Google, Bing, Twitter, SocialMention, YouTube, etc.). The rankings should be reported for BOTH positive (intended or unintended) results, as well as very negative (i.e. if a phrase is showing up within a negative context, that result should get lower over time). Focus first on Google, and on keyphrases that are competitive vs. the "sure thing" (i.e. searching for "Loudoun Economic Development" isn't a competitive phrase). Be sure that your SERP counts INCLUDE sites where your content is routinely syndicated, i.e. your content as summarized or posted on someone else's blog or site.

Legitimate Reach - if the marketing is effective, more and more influential people will experience it across more and more sites, social communities and on different devices. Assuming your marketing content originates from a core site, use the website traffice metrics and multiply the monthly number of unique devices * the monthly number of unique referring sites * the monthly number of absolute unique visitors * number of phone calls + emails generated from Internet visibility (that's right, ask 'em how they found you when they call). This is a number that should consistently grow.

Good Social Currency - if the marketing is effective, you'll gain social currency - those are signals (hopefully positive) generated by social media users across their channels, like "likes", "favorites", "retweets", "shares", "+'s". Active, rising metrics here are much more useful than simply tracking number of followers or fans, since many of these so-called fans are probably just lurkers, bots, spammers, non-useful or otherwise - and it's hard to weed them out. Social currency can be tracked per content item and per campaign - to start, simply collect the aggregate (these can be collected individually through their respective services, or tracked by adding Google analytics parameters to the link code)...for example:

# likes on the Facebook page
# retweets of marketing Tweets
# Google +1's generated for your site content
# shares via LinkedIn
# comments via the Blog postings of your content

It'll take a little skill to figure out the most efficient way to collect these, but it's not very difficult, and Google Analytics makes it pretty easy.

2) Goal Oriented Traffic

Are site visitors effectively getting funneled into your macro or micro goals? (Thanks to Avinash for this approach). Are they doing what you'd like them to do, more and more of the time? Are they "converting"?

A "macro" goal is one that pretty specifically generates the right kind of absolute value - for an Economic Development organization, this could be a commercial lease commitment, an event commitment or an application for land use permit. It could even be landing an unpaid celebrity endorsement of the area. It's very hard to directly correlate Internet user activity with these macro goals, but it is more feasible to correlate Internet user activity with "micro" goals - that we agree are contributory predecessors to the "macro" goals.

Taking "biz.loudoun.gov" for example (Loudoun County Department of Economic Development), there are a few micro goals that we can immediately focus on, that very likely are great indicators of intzent and favorable interaction (besides the use of social currency or feedback tools). We'll assume that most site selectors or businesses considering Northern Virginia and therefore Loudoun County already understand that (A) the power/network infrastructure is going to be good, (B) the traffic infrastructure is going to be bad (until the Silver Line!), and (C) Loudoun is pretty close to DC and the Dulles Airport, with very livable, desirable communities and education options.

The highest priority micro goals, that indicate "real" progress towards a macro goal might therefore include:

- Click-throughs from the "Site Selection" page, including the "Site Search", "Incentives" and "Contact our Team" links;

- Clicks (downloads) of the "Workforce & Demographics" document, from the "Workforce Development & Training" page;

- Click-throughs from the biz.loudoun.gov site "Development Process" page to the Loudoun.gov site for subdivision/zoning permits and applications;

- Supply of an email address on the "Notify Me" page (and click of the "Create Profile" button);

- Click-throughs on the Small Business "Quick Start Guide", with time spent on the subordinate pages;

- Clicks (downloads) of the "Fast Track Form", under "Development Process";

- Clicks to the "Cost of Doing Business" page - which appears to be a very important set of data that should be fairly dynamic (i.e. the rates should change frequently); and

- Any click of the "print" button (this probably means more time to be spent considering the content later).

Without digging into the mechanisms of setting and reporting funnel goals and objectives in Google Analytics (or any other metrics tool), just start by adding up the metrics described above and track month-to-month.

So, we could end up with 2 sets of high-level metrics to report out to the general stakeholder community and strategic leadership - this exercise will take a little effort each month, but probably only a couple of hours:

Important Stakeholder Website Success Super Report

A) A brief table of well-known and interesting, but rather useless data that's expected - like total number of website visitors, number of Facebook fans, etc. "Brag Stats" (or perhaps not...)

B) The summary metrics (reported as a weekly/monthly trend) discussed above:

B1. Message Reach and Influence

- Average Search Engine Rankings for top 5 Keyword Phrases = (5 numbers)
- Legitimate Reach = (a number)
- Social Currency = (a number)

B2. Goal-Oriented Traffic = (add up 8 numbers = a summary number)

That's it.

At the very least, running through this exercise as an economic development organization, and then digesting the feedback from stakeholders should result in truly insightful and usable measures and metrics down the road. And here's another nifty benefit - if you settle on the micro goals, these actually can (and should) influence updates to the design of the site! So that more of them get accomplished, as measured both by achievement of macro goals and by the improved "task completion percentage" you're obviously measuring (you do follow up and ask or survey engaged website visitors after they complete a goal, whether they're satisfied or not, don't you?)

Monday, March 26, 2012

On Becoming an IT Solution Architect - 5 Critical Practices

The Information Technology (IT) inventory of HR role and position labels is broad and deep. IT position descriptions may be closely associated with actual black box technology (like "Microsoft Windows Server 2008 Administrator" or "Storage Area Network (SAN) Engineer"), or they may describe roles in a methodology-driven context required for IT success ("IT Project Manager", "Functional Requirements Specialist"). No IT job label is more loosely defined than the "Architect", even with a long string of descriptive adjectives ("Component Services Integration Application Architect").

Taking the "Security Architect" role for example, this person usually does, as well-understood, develop models and abstracted designs (for easier communication) to help build and deliver IT security requirements through engineering methods, constraints, tools and investments. However, does this "Architect" create detailed designs and configurations for security tools? Does this Architect map out and define the security team org structure and responsibilities, both during the build and thereafter sustained operations? Does this Architect take into account (and perhaps influence) security-related money being spent or projects being implemented elsewhere among stakeholders and policy-makers, to help justify or align security design? Does the security architecture include access control designs and processes for the facility, that the IT system or team is housed within?

A more and more common answer over the last 7 years in the world of Enterprise IT Systems Acquisition, Engineering and Operations is that a "Solution Architect" (SA) is the advertised role required to discover, shape and apply relevant, comprehensive contextual awareness during the early phases of an IT-driven program (whether pre or post-award).

This "awareness" is the knowledge container (expressed in consumable plans, financials, models and illustrations) that directly influences how discipline-focused architects and engineers (like the "Security Architect") achieve the right balance of scope, risk, and resources necessary to deliver an intended contribution to the overall IT system. This contextual awareness also shapes the IT program from the perspectives of investment management, project management, services management and enterprise architecture - a large IT program simply can't satisfy its direct stakeholders without contemplating its business relationship with all other (or "collateral") stakeholders.

So, a Solution Architect may be first an enterprise services relationship manager, second a business investment and planning manager, and third a "system-of-systems" architect/engineer (with practical knowledge of the IT context involved) - whose output is shared with and consumed by others as their more discrete focus requires. I'd say the SA is in effect the CIO/CTO of the particular IT investment. John Critchley's article "A Rough Guide to Solution Architecture" sums it up nicely (paraphrased) - "A Solution Architect helps bridge the design gap between business needs and what information technology has to offer".

With such a broad scope of skills, knowledge and responsibility - surely there are professional certifications available to establish, build and prove distinct competency in this role - like the PMP, ITIL-Certification, MSCE, etc. More to the point of this article, how exactly does one become (or develop) a "Solution Architect" as expected and understood by those ready to hire (or promote)?

Having been a Solution Architect (as hired) supporting many large systems integrators and their clients (including Accenture, IBM, Deloitte, CSC), and delivering to this expectation according to many similar "role descriptions" - I'm certain there's no truly comprehensive and singularly warranted Solution Architect certification available to the public. There are industry "Architect", "Enterprise Architect", "Solution Architect" (focusing on a specific vendor solution, like Microsoft, NetApp etc.) and "System Architect" certifications available (i.e. from ITAC, IASA, the Open Group, etc.), but no certifications that truly marry the knowledge and responsibility for investing in and catalyzing (i.e. actually getting it started) a capability, with actually designing and delivering it. In other words, pairing the financial and mission responsibility with the technical. (Not that I've seen yet - please correct as necessary).

This isn't to say that any of these significant certifications of expertise in complex architectures isn't enough for many advertised Solution Architecture roles - it's simply to say that the certifications themselves don't carry the weight of real world experience, where people and money matter as much as a good technology design.

The larger companies (i.e. IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, Accenture, Deloitte, CSC, etc.) are internally building and measuring competency in this sort of role with respect to their own methods and assets, their own clients and service relationships - while the smaller companies hire-to-need or press their most senior system or component architects into service with (hopefully) symbiotic collaboration from the program manager, the functional lead, the governance and investment stakeholders. For smaller companies (and low-margin projects), the Solution Architect is usually either someone who parachutes in briefly, or someone who needs a whole lot of help - either way extremely costly and with little enterprise ROI. (Note to small companies - invest and develop within, don't contract this out).

In most cases, there are really only two ways to first "become" a Solution Architect, and actually to get paid for the contextual advisory role I've described above. Either you're (A) recommended for the role (or a development program) by a forward-thinking and hopeful senior executive (i.e. your benefactor or mentor), or (B) you self-describe and promote yourself as such, land the lucky role and prove it sticks.

Either of these methods presupposes you've spent at least a few years learning, becoming responsible for and delivering positive outcomes across ALL of the following IT business and technical disciplines - this would therefore mean you're likely to have been "in the business" for at least 5-10 years of "progressive experience" (more likely 10-15):

1 - Program and Project Management (they're different)
2 - IT Investment Management (i.e. how the CIO's office operates)
3 - IT Acquisitions (i.e. Proposals, Marketing, Cost Estimating - this is where the SA spends the most time)
4 - Enterprise Architecture (i.e. the enterprise-wide constraints, standards, reference models, templates, reusable assets, meta-directories, etc., from models like the FEAF, TOGAF, DODAF)
5 - IT Architecture Methods and Patterns (i.e. SOA, ITIL, COBiT, etc. - SOA really being required, as well as "Non-Functional" requirements like scalability, availability, etc.)
6 - Systems Engineering (i.e. various flavors of the SDLC, with heavy emphasis of the Requirements discpline)
7 - Business Architecture (i.e. the non-technology elements required for delivery of an IT capability, like organization structure & training, resourcing model, service agreements, facility provisioning, materials and logistics, telecommunications and power, etc.)
8 - System Architecture (i.e. planning and designing the WHOLE system, if even just a little one, like a small website)
9 - Sub-System, Component or Service Architectures (at least a few of the majors, including Information/Data, Security, Integration, Infrastructure, Application, User Interfaces & Visualization)
10 - Programming & Testing (actually having used the tools and environments)
11 - Information Technology Awareness (essentially keeping up to date on the trends and features of IT products, vendors, user demands, legislation, pricing, etc.)
12 - Business or Mission Processes, Functions, Data & Standards (most IT solutions are delivering business requirements, for a particular industry, business function or mission - you should become well-versed in one or a few of these, for example insurance or financial systems, geospatial mapping, inventory management, etc.)
13 - Knowledge Management and Social Media (i.e. knowing how, when and why to share what information with the people that matter)

So, you say, "I can't be (A) recommended or (B) self-certify myself into an SA role without first immersing myself in the above 13 disciplines - but how do I get into those? I'm only a (insert-your-subdomain)-Architect, after all."

My answer is as follows, in these 5 critical practices:

1 - Be aware of these requirements, and grab or volunteer whenever the opportunity presents to extend yourself (and thereafter you can "self-certify" with some proof points, and start adding to both your resume and your labels or tags as applied to online postings). Do remain mostly billable, however, and continue to prove your utilization value (i.e. temper your enthusiasm and extracurricular activities with the reality of what the customer is ultimately paying for).

2 - Find and routinely collaborate with, whether formally or informally, recognized "experts" or very successful people in these roles - especially if they're NOT part of your existing, immediate circle (online groups and communities are really helpful these days) - again, volunteer to help or engage. Ping people like me with legitimate questions or ideas; maybe I know someone helpful to you. If your company is developing an internal Solutions Architecture program, jump on it immediately, or at least get close with those who are building it (for example, I was in one of the first groups of Architects through Accenture's original Solution Architect program many years ago). Your network is invaluable; much of an SA's job is not so much determining the answer, as it is finding verified experts who already know an acceptable answer.

3 - Become an expert in (or better yet develop yourself) a company asset, solution offering or methodology (preferably one that many "billable" projects need)...so much so that others begin to see you not only as knowledgeable in that subject, but as an SME by role - an actual asset to the organization. Someone who is presentable to the customer. Write and publish something (adherent to proper copyright and IP guidance of course), that can be used outside of your project - whether inside the company, on the web, to a client group; it doesn't have to be formal, but does have to be unique and useful (creativity helps a lot as well - Solution Architecture is as much art as science in the end).

4 - Take a stint at leadership - this is very important - you must be able to understand how people and their benefactors work together, remain motivated and productive on IT projects. So although you may be a real gear-head and reluctant to join "management", find the opportunity to be a team lead, do some project scheduling and resource allocation, push some paper and develop your communications skills.

5 - Become a good writer, and present yourself always as a professional. 'Nuff said.

In my opinion, and per my experience, if you follow the 5 practices above, and develop a portfolio of experience that covers the 13 disciplines above - you've graduated as a real-world-certified Solution Architect open for business.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Art Business and Social Media in Loudoun County, VA

Yesterday's Loudoun Economic Development Commission meeting was full of interesting items relating to the business of promoting, revitalizing and expanding Loudoun County's economic base - including recent "Beta" launch of the New Department of Economic Development Brand and Website (try it out, provide feedback!), plus an announcement by the Chamber of their new "Rail to Loudoun" website initiative soon to come.

One of the more compelling and integrated-community initiatives was the discussion about whether Loudoun should implement an "Arts and Culture District" to support the Leesburg District. The relationship between economic development and a strong arts and culture environment is indisputable - as was put "the more businesses that are attracted and retained in the area, the more the arts and cultural district will flourish, thereby creating more foot traffic and revenue for the Town and County."

Read more at the Gateway to Loudoun County business and community blog...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Beachfront, or Socialfront Property for Rent - No Bedbugs!

(From the Kings of Metaphor at KME...why should all the physical land, property owners and developers have all the fun?)

That's right, we've got some amazing un-real estate now for rent, in all the great places.

Whether you're looking for a quick getaway, or longer-term (monthly contracts available) socialfront property – we've got attractive options for you. Seeking a short term stay among the technorati in sunny San Diego? Need a monthly rental with all the amenities in the company of other New Jersey shore online enthusiasts? Looking to rub shoulders online with fun-loving, healthy lifestyles and the social media elite of Denver? Looking to be a virtual roommate with other Twitter fans in DC, but don't want the hassle or risk of ownership or long-term commitments?

Several highly desirable, attractive, extremely conversational socialfront properties or "channels" are available today, for temporary, short or long-term lease. Your lease agreement can range from full-time residence to metered instances of occupation. Let others know you're visiting, or rest comfortably in virtual anonymity. "Occupy our social media" with easy terms, minimal damage deposit and few restrictions on redecoration – "furniture" and post-visit cleanup included!

If you're really cool – we'll throw in some free nights.

Rent a piece of the socialfront action today – in these easy steps:

1 – Choose your audience, your ideal social community – top-visited, fun locations currently include DC, San Diego, Denver, Northern Virginia and New Jersey! (We’re also the largest un-land owner of the most desirable virtual locations in picturesque @Loudoun County, VA – http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifDC's Wine & Beer Country!)

2 – Tell us your rental plans – how often will you visit, over what time period?

3 - What would you say to your neighbors, your new community? Are you going to be loud and obnoxious, or just chillax?

4 – Do you mind roommates, or want the property all for yourself?

5 – Perhaps you'd like help – letting others know about your parties, your presence, your pad? Your pumped-up kicks?

(read more)...